Category Archive 'Entitlements'

12 Aug 2014

There Oughta Be an Entitlement

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Jessica Valenti argues, in the Guardian, that the world owes her some tampons.

For too many girls, the products that mark “becoming a woman” are luxuries, not givens. And for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.

We need to move beyond the stigma of “that time of the month” – women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time.

Sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls across the globe. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch, for example, have both linked menstrual hygiene to human rights. Earlier this year, Jyoti Sanghera, chief of the UN Human Rights Office on Economic and Social Issues, called the stigma around menstrual hygiene “a violation of several human rights, most importantly the right to human dignity”. …

But this is less an issue of costliness than it is of principle: menstrual care is health care, and should be treated as such. But much in the same way insurance coverage or subsidies for birth control are mocked or met with outrage, the idea of women even getting small tax breaks for menstrual products provokes incredulousness because some people lack an incredible amount of empathy … and because it has something to do with vaginas. Affordable access to sanitary products is rarely talked about outside of NGOs – and when it is, it’s with shame or derision.

In 1986, Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they “would brag about how long and how much”: that boys would talk about their menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies” and sanitary supplies would be “federally funded and free”. I could live without the menstrual bragging – though mine is particularly impressive – and ceremonial parties, but seriously: Why aren’t tampons free?

25 Feb 2012

Seven Fat Years and Seven Lean Years

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Conservatives (really more accurately referred to as “liberals”) argue that the free market produces superior allocations of resources because of its natural access to superior information on supply and demand provided by the voluntary input of enormously large numbers of individual human beings. The free market consequently inevitably operates on the basis of better information than any possible small group of political leaders or experts can ever hope to possess. Beyond mere utility, the free market additionally has morality on its side. Human beings are morally entitled to exchange what is their own, whether goods, services, or currency, as they desire and think best. The alternative to freedom is always coercive force, and freedom is intrinsically morally better than coercion.

Progressives reject the free market, noting that it fails to make the idle prosperous, the incompetent and the unlucky successful, and the improvident and intoxicated equal in security and material success to the responsible and provident.

Since the free market never actually seems able to deliver heaven on earth, progressives proposed that government should intervene to establish a safety net to assure that no one, no matter how unlucky or ill-behaved, should be left without the necessities of human existence.

Progressives demand that we should all surrender some significant portion of our economic liberty and deliver control over the free market to government specifically because they believe that the rule of credentialed experts will deliver superior results.

The Progressive experiment, which has gone on for many decades now, has survived this long because of the capacity of capitalist enterprise to deliver prosperity and economic growth despite being shackled by ever-increasing levels of regulation and despite the diversion of substantial percentages of economic output to entitlements.

Our expert rulers, in reality, merely exchanged an ever-increasing slice of the entire economy for more political support. Their calculations were fraudulent and completely risible, burying information unfavorable to their ends, achieving balanced budgets by phony bookkeeping, and invariably relying on wildly optimistic projections to cause their plans’ mathematics to add up.

In good times, progressive experts have always spent more, added new programs, and constructed new bureaucratic empires, piling the promises for the future up to the stars. When the budget didn’t really add up, they simply placed their trust in the ability of the capitalist system to deliver enough growth, soon enough, to save them, and simply kicked the can of fiscal responsibility down the road to be dealt with later.

Now, of course, in both Europe and America, the music has finally stopped, the game is over. There is no more road to kick the can down. America and Europe have hit the point where the costs of government are dramatically impairing the free market’s ability to deliver prosperity and growth. The capitalist goose has been shaken and squeezed and strangled, but there is no increase in egg production occurring.

It seems perfectly evident to me that, if what the progressives believe, that the rule of scientifically trained experts can improve upon the results of the free market, those experts would have, in the course of all their training and elite education, encountered Chapter 41 of the Book of Genesis in which Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that seven fat years will be followed in turn by seven lean years, and counsels Pharaoh to set aside a portion of his government’s revenues to cover future shortfalls during the seven lean year recession.

The current international economic crisis demonstrates vividly that contemporary progressive economic planning is not only inferior to free market results, it is decidedly inferior to Bronze Age Middle Eastern economic administration.

Essentially what has happened is that progressive establishment elites, those who claim the right to rule over all the rest of us on the basis of their superior wisdom, training, and credentials, have flown the Entitlement State airplane right into the ground. They wrecked the economies of a large number of nations by creating a crisis through market interference and mismanagement. They have issued too many promises and threaten to bankrupt their nation’s economies far into the future.

The current recession proves, once and for all, that the wise men of progressivism were never very wise at all, and that their claim of a right to overrule liberty and the free market on the basis of superior wisdom and morality is not well-founded.

When you steer the cart off the road, you don’t get to take the wheel again and continue driving. It is time for a change of driver.

31 Oct 2011

After You, Byron!

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Warmist whackjob Byron Kennard has a modest proposal for reducing entitlement spending on nursing home care for decrepit baby boomers.

I call on boomers to imitate the example of the Inuit, a tribe who occupy Greenland and Northern Alaska. In olden days, when food ran short, elderly Inuits who felt they were a burden on their community would wander off by themselves into the wilderness where they would perish of their own accord. …

• A hero’s journey, in the mythical sense, is the highest goal to which humans aspire.
• There’s something about being alone in the wilderness that evokes humanity’s most intense, sublime experiences.
• Preservation of wilderness is of paramount importance to the future well-being of the planet.

My proposal builds on all this. It provides a strong new rationale for preservation of wilderness areas. After all, if aging boomers are to wander into the wilderness to die, there must be wilderness to wander into. But, of course, nobody wants suicidal seniors flooding into existing parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite that are already crowded with vacationers looking for a good time. So my proposal calls for expanded wilderness protection in order to accommodate large numbers of nearly-dearly departed boomers. Think of this as the ecological dividend of your sacrifice.

Now, despite my emphasis on volunteerism, I’m realistic enough to know that economic incentives are what really count. Accordingly, my proposal includes a prod to encourage any boomers who are reluctant to “step up to the plate.” Cutting off their income ought to do the trick.

Under my proposal, Social Security payments would end automatically when beneficiaries turn 90. This sounds harsh, I know, but frankly, isn’t it reasonable to assume that by age 90 your overriding concern will be death with dignity? Well, anyway, that’s what it ought to be if you guys have any taste or gumption or healthy sense of self.

At present, most really old people lie terminally bored in rest homes watching Law and Order re-runs for the hundredth time — a fate worse than death. Most actually expire hooked up to expensive machines in overcrowded, unsanitary hospitals.

Hey, boomers, wouldn’t you rather bid life farewell on your own terms, in the great American outdoors, surrounded by scenic wonders, communing with nature? Sure you would!

Here’s the icing on the cake. As things stand now, you guys are going to exit life’s stage amid catcalls of derision from the younger generations you’ve screwed. But as followers of the Inuit’s honorable tradition, you’ll stride offstage to thunderous applause from a grateful posterity. And think how proud Mom and Dad would be.

It’s kind of hard to tell how much, if any, of this is tongue in cheek when it comes from someone with Kennard’s political views. His lot has a record of really implementing these kinds of ideas.

Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.

06 Jul 2011

Al Capone’s Vault

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Ed Feulner says our current situation reminds him of one of the great moments of television history.

Twenty-five years ago, Geraldo Rivera hosted a greatly hyped TV special called “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” It still stands as one of the highest-rated programs in television history.

On the ballyhooed night, cameras crept through the tunnel to the vault. There, on live TV, workers pulled down the concrete wall. The dust settled, and the cameras peered inside. And what did spellbound viewers behold? A pile of dirt, a few empty gin bottles and a discarded stop sign. Such were the treasures in Al Capone’s vault.

A quarter-century later, this serves as a wonderful metaphor for the grand project of progressivism. Since the dawn of the 20th century, progressives have foretold the blessings they would deliver. Ordinary citizens lack the wits to govern themselves, they said, so let’s put an elite cadre of progressive managers on the case. Give them power, and they soon would have things humming – a chicken in every pot, a Chevy in every garage.

When progressives gained power, they served us the New Deal and Social Security, followed by helpings of the Great Society and Medicare/Medicaid. Now they’re jamming the Obama smorgasbord down our throats – Obamacare, bailouts, stimulus packages, Government Motors and “quantitative easing,” a.k.a. printing money.

That isn’t all. Far from it. For decades, public-sector labor unions harnessed progressivism’s spread-the-wealth creed to extract lavish contracts from government. Workers won guarantees of lifetime health care and generous pensions, often without having to contribute a penny from their own above-market wages.

But instead of simmering in their progressive pots, the chickens are flocking home to roost. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and, if not reformed, will soon devour the entire federal budget, chickens and all.

Read the whole thing.

12 Nov 2010

The Truth About Entitlements

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Arnold Kling examines the feasibility of maintaining current US level of entitlement spending for seniors and arrives at highly pessimistic conclusions.

Most Americans would be happier if the outlook for the budget could be taken care of without having to make major changes to entitlement programs. Certainly, politicians would have it easier if this were the case.

Unfortunately, arithmetic and prudence imply a need to tackle entitlements. What this paper has shown is that various alternative solutions to the budget problem are largely myths. Social Security is not protected by its trust fund. The trust fund contains no real assets. It is simply an accounting device that indicates the promises that have been made to current workers to provide benefits to them in retirement. There is no way to avoid having Social Security absorb a large share of
the budget during the years when the Baby Boomers are collecting benefits.

Raising taxes on high earners (those in the top 1 percent of the income distribution) is not a reliable way to deal with the budget deficit. Increasing the effective tax rate requires much more than just raising marginal rates because individuals have the opportunity to shift income into forms that are taxed at lower rates. Structural reforms to the tax system could reduce the ability of high earners to shelter income, but only with adverse effects on capital accumulation, entrepreneurship, and risktaking. In any case, even doubling the effective tax rate on high earners would not make the budget problem disappear.

Health care spending is rising as a share of GDP. This is true all over the world, reflecting the high income elasticity of the demand for health care. As people get wealthier, they are willing to spend more to remain healthier. Certainly, greater efficiency in health care management and delivery is both desirable and possible. However, the potential for pure efficiency gains is limited, and it will not solve the problem of ever-increasing Medicare spending. The only way to address Medicare specifically and health care spending more generally is to change the way that Americans make choices about the utilization of medical services. This will require either a stronger move toward government rationing or a shift toward more consumer sharing of the costs and responsibility for decisions about which procedures to undertake and which procedures to forgo.

Broad-based tax increases, bringing rates in line with those seen in Europe, will only solve the budget problem if there is minimal response of labor supply. However, there is notable evidence that higher taxes produce significant long-run reductions in hours spent engaging in market work, with households substituting home production for taxable labor. Higher tax rates could result in a large loss in consumer well-being with little or no increase in government revenues.

Finally, it is true that we faced a higher ratio of debt to GDP at the end of the Second World War. However, our current position does not resemble that of 1945, when we could look forward to sharp declines in government spending and large primary surpluses. Instead, the outlook over the next two decades is for increased spending and ever-widening primary deficits. Certainly, if productivity growth greatly exceeds the 1.6 percent per year embedded in current projections, the prospects for the budget would be brighter. However, it is most prudent to align our promised entitlement benefits to realistic projections, not to optimistic hopes.

Today, the American people must face up to significant structural changes in entitlement programs that reduce promised benefits. We have exhausted the alternatives.

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